Four-for-Four: The ‘Wing Bowl’ Edition

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With football season over and the Flyers scrambling to sustain any sort of confidence, Brett Brown has tagged in as the ‘It coach’ in the city until further notice. The gritty, knowledgeable leader of the 76ers has endeared himself to the city through his team’s inspired play and exciting brand of basketball. The first-year coach is in a fortunate position this season, as many are far less focused on wins and losses compared to the progress shown of some of the team’s young players. It is possibly Brown’s one-on-one work with first round pick Nerlens Noel that could end up being his most impressive undertaking during his first season in charge.

At least year’s Wing Bowl, Chip Kelly was given a tailor-made ‘Welcome to Philadelphia’ party when he attended less than a month after his hire. Brown did not have the welcome mat rolled out for him when he was hired, quite contrarily as a matter of fact. Brown’s hire, after a tenuous evaluation process, was greeted with a sigh of relief given that it finally meant the team had a coach. Over his tenure, Brown has done a terrific job establishing himself as a sharp basketball mind with a demeanor that really suits the city.

Brown has as good a chance to end up being the most successful of the four new coaches hired in the past calendar year. He has done nothing to indicate otherwise and looks like he could be part of a basketball renaissance in the city. Much like Kelly a year ago, Brown decided to grace the hordes of Wing Bowl attendees. Brown may have grown up and flourished in areas similar to Philadelphia. Safe to say that, judging from his showing at Wing Bowl, he had no idea what he was in store for.

Brown was greeted with a very warm response, but did not have the effortless rapport with the fans that Kelly had a year ago. He seemed unable to get the look of astonishment off his face before Angelo Cataldi finally gave him the verbal escort off the stage. Unless Michael Carter-Williams says otherwise, Brett Brown is pretty teflon in the city until expectations shoot up. Safe to say that a few jitters at his first Wing Bowl will be forgiven by the Philadelphia faithful.


Jan 29, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers small forward Evan Turner (12) celebrates after making the game-winning shot against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The 76ers are 8-2 in games decided by five points or less.

In a season where many 76ers fans are hoping their team loses as many contests as possible, this should be a stat to turn to when he or she is conflicted about how to react to a win. Despite the fact that Philadelphia is a bottom-five NBA team (4th worst record heading into Friday’s game vs. Atlanta), they have still been able to re-inject some energy into those who follow the team. No matter how poorly things are going from a wins-losses standpoint, there are few things more fulfilling than watching a team win a close game late in the contest.

While everyone curses the 76ers wins under their breath knowing it puts them in worse shape of attaining a top pick come the 2014 Draft, it is worth noting that they are winning the only types of games you want them to. Winning in games where there is high pressure and little margin for error is a sign of good coaching and receptiveness by the players. Often times, at the end of games, poorly-coached teams appear overwhelmed and unorganized when the game is on the line. Teams with more talent than this 76ers team often suffer from the fact that they have not been drilled enough in how to handle the closing minutes of a tight game.

For all of their deficiencies, the 76ers look very poised and crisp towards the end of games. If the opposition had not already put substantial distance between themselves and Philadelphia, Brett Brown’s squad has impressed with their ability to manufacture late points without a ‘go-to’ scorer. Without going through each game, I know Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, and Spencer Hawes have hit game-winning or game-saving clutch shots. Turner has some ability to break down individual defenders, but none of those trio is a dynamic player in isolation. Even when the team is supposed to be at its most tired point and unable to go through some of the complex plays, the 76ers seem well-drilled in running the sets that Brett Brown draws up for the team.

It might seem unforgivable, but I still struggle with how to react to wins by the 76ers. Especially against the Celtics, a team also gearing up for the 2014 Draft, winning at the last second was an internal conflict. The nature of the win swayed me in the ‘positive response’ direction. If the 76ers can keep performing well in close games and continue to demonstrate the rooting of Brett Brown’s philosophies, I suppose I’ll cheer a bit harder in the future.


Marcus Smart-Guard; Sophomore (Oklahoma State)-6’4″, 220 lbs. 17.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.4 apg

Our look at the 2014 draft will focus on a pair of sophomore shooting guards. The first, Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State. Smart created ripples after last season, where the Big 12 Player of the Year and 2nd team All-American decided to return to school in lieu of potentially being a top-five pick in the NBA Draft. The prolific combo guard’s decision to play his sophomore season made him a popular Player of the Year pick.

While Smart is a serviceable floor general for a good Oklahoma State team, his skill set translates to a scorer on the next level. Some point to Smart’s lack of length as a cause for concern, but he has shown an advanced ability of creating space with his imposing frame. His range extends well beyond the three-point line and he can score in bunches (39 points vs. a ranked Memphis team in November). If and when a team does pull the trigger on Smart, they will be investing in his intangibles just as much as his talent.

Smart is a dynamic leader who welcomes the opportunity to put his team on his back when the game is on the line. While this approach has brought him substantial praise over his first year and change, a recent skid by the Cowboys have brought Smart under the microscope. Oklahoma State, who started the season ranked 8th in the country, has three losses in the Big 12 and have lost two of their last three games. Following a loss to Oklahoma, the Cowboys biggest rival, Smart took to the media to address the masses of fans in panic mode.

"“The team’s in a little funk right now…We just need to get back in the lab, in the gym and work on some things. It’s so much that we’re doing ourselves; just cut off all the little things that when we look at on film, we know we can fix, things that are in our control.”"

For a sophomore, Smart appears to have a great pulse of his team and the trust of his peers to allow him to speak on their behalf. As far as Smart as a draft prospect, he reminds me of Evan Turner in school. Smart is fantastic with the ball and has the ability to do incredible things while in control. If there is a team loaded with role-players that have not been able to supplement with scoring, Smart could step in and fill that role. Given his maturity level, Smart appears to be a relatively safe pick with very little risk involved.

For this, among several other reasons, I doubt the 76ers will show much interest in Smart. Recently, Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie shed some light on the personnel approach he has used in his short time in Philadelphia. His description on the type of prospect the 76ers have shown interest in is all the indicator one might need if they think Philadelphia is interested in Smart.

"“Nerlens, is indicative of what we’re doing here, and that means taking chances on players who can become superstars. It means ignoring the bunt sign and swinging for the fence at every pitch."

Smart is a fantastic college player who looks like he can make some noise in the NBA. He would have probably been the 1st overall pick if he entered the draft last year. All that said, I can pretty confidently say the 76ers won’t be calling Smart’s name come draft-time.

Gary Harris-Guard; Sophomore (Michigan State)-6’4″, 210 lbs. 18.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.8 apg

Jan 21, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo talks to Michigan State Spartans guard Gary Harris (14) during the 2nd half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. MSU won 71-66. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

There aren’t too many players coming from Tom Izzo’s Michigan State program that are as tantalizing as Harris. Whether it is a result of the types of players Izzo usually recruits, or the fact that Big Ten basketball is not always geared toward some of the more prolific talents in high school basketball, it seems like the Spartans do not produce many impact NBA players. If Harris is any sort of indicator of a shift in philosophy by Izzo, one can expect several more Michigan State products to find themselves in a similar position to what the sophomore guard should be come draft time.

Harris has no glaring weaknesses in his game. To credit Izzo, if a player remains in his program for more than just a season, they should see their skills improve by leaps and bounds. Harris showed flashes his freshman year, but has really benefited from the added offseason and responsibility of being a team leader. In a season that the Spartans have seen dynamic players like Adreian Payne and Brandan Dawson, Harris has had to put the onus of the scoring on himself. Given the fact that Harris JUST had his first sub-10 point contest of the season, I would say he’s embracing the role.

Harris can score in any number of ways. He can be streaky, but lethal from distance. Unlike Smart, Harris has much more of an explosiveness to his game that allows him to create his own shots in a variety of situations. Harris also has a knack on defense, averaging over two steals a game for the Spartans. If there are areas Harris has to improve on, taking advantage of his superior athleticism to develop more of a mid-range game could be at the top of the list. Given his height, Harris might need to continue to work on his ball-handling, as he will have to work harder at the NBA level. All of that said, considering the injuries to impact players on Michigan State, Harris could see his stock climb up by season’s end. Again, it’s tough to see Harris as a go-to NBA scorer and I ultimately think that is what the 76ers will be in the market for. However, Harris is a unique talent who will be as well-coached as any player in the upcoming draft. Given the choice between Harris or Smart, I would opt for the Michigan State product.